George Alagiah reveals cancer battle brought him closer to his wife
Cancer will get me in the end… but it’s made my marriage more intimate: Veteran newsreader George Alagiah, 66, reveals how his bowel disease battle has brought him closer than ever to his wife
- George Alagiah was first diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and again in 2017
- He is on a break from presenting BBC TV News after cancer returned in October
- He said his marriage had become more ‘intimate’ since he was initially diagnosed
Newsreader George Alagiah has spoken of how his battle with cancer has brought him closer than ever to his wife and made him ‘content’.
Weeping openly, Alagiah, who is on a break from presenting the BBC TV News after his cancer returned in October, said his marriage had become more ‘intimate’ since he was initially diagnosed in 2014.
He added that his bowel cancer would ‘probably get him in the end’ but, while he regretted having the disease, he reckoned it had taught him so much about himself and life he was uncertain whether he would ‘give the last seven years back’.
Alagiah, 66, has been married to wife Frances, an executive with the Fairtrade Foundation charity, for 36 years. The couple, who have two sons in their thirties, met at university.
Recalling the moment he was told he had cancer, he said: ‘Ah! I remember thinking about Fran. I just… I couldn’t bear the thought… of leaving her.’
Struggling to maintain his composure, he continued: ‘To sit opposite the woman you love… and to find a way of telling her that you might not make the end of the journey with her, is a form of intimacy. You have to be so honest with each other, and say, ‘Look, this thing that we envisioned together may not happen’.
‘It got us to a place where… we thought we had a great relationship, and we got a better one.
‘Obviously, I wish I’d never ever had cancer, but I’m not 100 per cent sure that I’d give the last seven years back because I have learnt stuff about myself and think about life differently.’
Alagiah, 66, has been married to wife Frances, an executive with the Fairtrade Foundation charity, for 36 years. The couple, who have two sons in their thirties, met at university
Alagiah, who was born in Sri Lanka and came to England as a boy, was first diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and again in 2017.
His agent announced three months ago that the popular presenter was taking another break from work after a ‘further spread of cancer’ had been discovered.
Alagiah told BBC colleagues at the time that doctors planned chemotherapy and radiotherapy to hit the new tumour ‘hard and fast’ and he was ‘determined to come back’ to work.
In an interview for a new podcast, ‘Desperately Seeking Wisdom’, in which celebrities and public figures discuss their mental health, Alagiah said: ‘I don’t think I’m going to be able to get rid of this thing. The whole point about cancer is it bloody finds a way through and gets you in the end. Probably, it will get me in the end.’
His first reaction on being told he had cancer was that he was being ‘cheated and robbed’.
But when he thought about his ‘great good fortune to meet Fran, my wife and lover for all these years’ he no longer felt like ‘a failure’. His life was now ‘divided into pre-cancer, and post-cancer’ phases, he said. The difference between the two was his ‘post-cancer’ life involves greater ‘intimacy’ with friends and family. ‘I loved my dad, but I don’t know how intimate we were,’ he added.
‘I’ve become wiser and life’s richer. The most important thing in my life is to enjoy the relationships I have, to enrich and nurture them. I’ve learnt it is OK to be vulnerable and to tell people that you’re feeling vulnerable.’
The most important relationship of all was with his wife.
Asked if he ‘accepted’ his cancer, Alagiah replied: ‘I’m content that if it all had to stop now, it’s been a good run. I’ve got to contentment, acceptance. I see life as a gift rather than worry about when it’s going to end.’
He recites several ‘mantras’ to keep his spirits up. ‘Every night I say to myself, ‘Georgie boy, are you gonna be here tomorrow morning?’ And every day for the last seven years, the answer has been, ‘Yeah, George, you are gonna be here in the morning’. I think, ‘F*** me, what a gift’.’
Alagiah said it was easy to feel anger at having cancer. But he felt he had found ‘wisdom’ – though he regretted it had taken a terminal illness to make him ‘stop and think’ about what really mattered.
‘We shouldn’t need to have trauma to build thoughtfulness and be in the present,’ he added.
÷ Desperately Seeking Wisdom is a new podcast hosted by Sir Craig Oliver, Downing Street director of communications in David Cameron’s administration.
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